Category Archives: Writing

Why Didn’t I Leave Brooklyn Sooner?

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Why didn’t I leave the City sooner? This is a question I often ask myself. I’ve been living in the Hudson Valley for two years after living in Brooklyn for fifteen. My last few years in Brooklyn were like being in a bad relationship, it held so much promise but really couldn’t deliver. Like somehow if I stayed there maybe my dreams of being a writer-musician-wunderkind would come true, but in reality I was working so much I had nothing left at the end of the day to pursue my creativity.

I stayed because of my business. I just didn’t know how I would make money somewhere else. I stayed because of my ego. There’s some kind of identity of being a New Yorker that I wanted to hang onto. I had worked so hard to carve out my little niche that I was reluctant to give it up.

But I was so stressed out from the noise, crowds, constant stimulation, and work that my adrenals were shot, my system was inflamed and I became depressed. Everything looked great on paper- I had the business, husband, apartment but then I couldn’t get out of bed. The suicidal thoughts came and wouldn’t stop which led to shrinks, more and more meds, hospitalizations, and eventually ECT (electroshock therapy), which affected my memory and left me a shell of my former self.

We couldn’t keep going in the city. I somehow sold my business during all this, and while I was on my psych hospital tour of 2015, my husband moved all our stuff into storage upstate. We moved into the tiny weekend cottage in Catskill that we had been renting for a few years. No jobs and no guarantees that we were going to be ok. Nothing.

I wouldn’t have ever left if I hadn’t gotten so sick, that I am certain of. I would’ve worked myself literally to death. But now what would become of us?

The same day my husband moved our stuff into storage he got a job interview in his field up in Albany and he actually got the job. It was a 45-minute commute, but some people do that or more in the City crushed in a subway car with half of humanity. A typical NYC kid he’d only gotten his license in the past year after a lot of prodding from me. Now he had to buy a car and drive to Albany every day. Thankfully, the thruway between Catskill & Albany traffic really isn’t all that bad. His commute would be air conditioning, music, and mountains on either side, not riding in a subway car with a pair of discarded shit filled underwear across the aisle like he did his last few weeks in NYC.

I, on the other hand, was a mess. The depression was better, but I wasn’t totally out of the woods. I struggled with the trauma of the past year in hospitals and losing my life in the city, my business, etc. I worried the only job I could get would be working a Target at the depressed Hudson Valley Mall. But at least I’d have a nice view of the mountains. If I had to work at Lowes the same was true. And if I worked at Stewarts at least I’d probably get free ice cream.

One thing we held onto in this transition was the fact that none of our friends who had left the City and moved upstate said they regretted it and wished they could go back. They had vibrant lives and families and time to enjoy them.

For work I boarded and trained dogs and I opened a small gift and pet related shop in Saugerties called Dogerties. I had always wanted to have a little shop and the rent was so reasonable. I couldn’t have afforded to do it in the City. I started sewing and making dog coats, pillows, and bandanas. I had always wanted to learn to sew but never had time. While I was sitting in the slow shop I wrote and played music a little, but mainly I just recovered from the past year or years it had taken to get me to this place.

We were able to buy a house, a simple ranch on 7 acres, with a creek and mountain views. Our mortgage is less than a studio apartment in the City. We could sit out on the back deck and watch the pink and orange sunset over the mountains.

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I took my dog for walks on the different trails nearby, the Comeau in Woodstock, the Lighthouse & Falling waters in Saugerties, some of the easy hikes in the mountains near Tannersville. I read. I listened to music. I slept. I ate and gained weight from the psych meds and not walking everywhere in the City. I went to the gym.

Sometimes, I got frustrated about my weight and tried to go down on my meds or switch and wound up feeling like shit again and going back up. Some days I cried and was scared I was falling back down the hole again, but usually the next day would be a little better. I just had to be patient, which has never been my strong suit.

I met other writers, artists, musicians, and instead of them being competitive as they were in the City, they were oddly nice and supportive. They weren’t worried about who your agent was or how many books or records you’ve sold. There are a lot of sharp elbows in the City. Upstate people are just excited to meet and experience another creative.

Dogerties was losing money despite my best efforts and I knew I would close when my lease was up at the end of the year. I’m glad I got to try having a shop, but honestly, sitting around waiting for someone to come in is not for me. But I value the experience as something I wouldn’t have had in the City. I made friends with the other shop owners in town and met a lot of nice people.

I didn’t know what I would do next, but I got more and more interested in real estate since I had been looking at Hudson Valley & Catskill Real Estate for so many years in the City. The real estate agent who had sold us our house became a friend and encouraged me to study for my real estate license. I passed and got a job at her company. I really enjoy it, but it is a lot of work and you’re never sure if you’ll actually make money. I’ve done pretty well so far selling a few houses in my first year and I hope with the hustle I learned in NYC I’ll be able to make my business grow to sustain me.

I went back to Brooklyn recently for the first time in two years. A lot of friends have moved away and the few we have left there are anxiously hanging on or planning their exit. Brooklyn has become a caricature of itself. Everything is “Brooklyn” loft or “Brooklyn” coffee or “Brooklyn” mayonnaise. I don’t even think Brooklyn is in Brooklyn anymore.

When I moved there in 2000 Brooklyn was creative, rough around the edges, rife with possibility. I see all that more in Catskill and Kingston than in Brooklyn these days. It’s exciting to be a part of a community again where regular not wealthy people are starting out shops, galleries, restaurants, doing their art, and finding their way.

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I think it’s possible upstate because it’s more affordable and there is more down time, which is what Brooklyn used to be. Now Brooklyn is more expensive—the art space that used to be around the corner from me is now a gym, the tattoo shop an insurance firm, the record shop a bank.

I’ll never be grateful for the sickness that drove me out of the city, but I am grateful for the life I have today. It’s quiet, but not boring, there’s actually so much going on in the Hudson Valley & Catskills that I can’t do everything. From music shows, to literary readings, to gallery openings, to hiking, swimming, and farming. I thought I would feel isolated, but I’m always running into someone in town that I know, always meeting yet another City expat or weekender that wishes they could be here full time.

I think the best gift that this move has given me is that now I know I can hustle anywhere. NYC gave me the gift of making me tough, creative, and resourceful and now I get to do that in a beautiful place where I actually have time to enjoy it.

If I could’ve told myself anything a few years ago it would’ve been just to leave. Leave before it gets so bad you have to leave. Life is too short to be miserably hanging onto what you think you are and where you think you need to be. Just fucking leap, you will land and it may be even better than you’d thought it would be.

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Filed under Brooklyn, Catskills, depression, Dogs, Hudson Valley, Moving, Music, NY, Poetry, Spirituality, Upstate, weight loss, Writing

I’m Fat, How did this happen?

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I’m fat, how did this happen?

I just want to get real here in this blog post to start a discussion and support for myself & everyone who’s struggling. I’m 5’ 9” and a comfortable weight for my body seems to be around 165-170 and a size 12. Yes, I’d like to weigh less than that but I tried for years & despite dog walking 5 hours a day & going to the gym that was about as low as I could get.

I’m ashamed to say I currently weigh 198, and am a size 14 which is completely shocking and not ok. Other people seemed shocked by this number because they say I “carry my weight well.” That’s why I wanted to put the number out there.

There are many factors that have lead to this. Last summer I was in & out of the hospital for depression, on & off several medications. I got down to around 160. Since getting out of the hospital, I’ve been on Seroquel (known for weight gain), which I got off of. I’m now on several medications including Abilify (which is supposed to be weight neutral but isn’t from my experiences on it over the past few years). While I do believe medications can effect your weight, I also have to take responsibility for what I put in my mouth.

I’ve always had a sweet tooth. I was a chunky kid, a girl scout who sold some cookies but also ate a lot. When I got to middle school I joined the soccer team and went on a 1400 calorie a day diet per a doctor. I was hungry a lot but lost weight.

In high school I took up smoking, and drinking, and not eating much. This kept me thin but then I got sober and food once again became an issue. In college I started running a lot which helped me stay around 165-170. Then when I moved to NYC I was not only walking everywhere, I started a dog walking company which had me walking 4-6 hours a day. I could pretty much eat what I wanted & not gain weight until my late 20s. Then my metabolism bid me farewell. I started going to the gym in addition to dog walking to maintain my weight.

Last year though I moved upstate and am now driving everywhere. I continue to go to the gym and walk dogs here and there but I’m obviously not getting exercise anywhere on the scale I used to.

Sugar is my best friend and my worst enemy. A cookie here, a scone there, pie, chocolate etc. Never in huge quantities, but almost every day I have eaten something sugary, I’m ashamed to admit. I’m an addict and apparently I need to learn how to abstain from this.

In the past year I’ve hired a personal trainer, been on & off Weight Watchers, did a weekly vegan food delivery service multiple times. I got a juicer and starting drinking green juices but could never seem to have the resolve to do a full on no eating juice cleanse. I’ve watched copious amounts of documentaries from Fat, Sick, & Nearly Dead to That Sugar Film to Vegucated. I’ve been to the Catskill Animal Sanctuary & Woodstock Farm Sanctuary. I know how fucked up the food industry in regards to animal products and processed foods. I’d really like to go vegetarian or vegan but I struggle with that as well.

I’ve gotten a lot of solace and inspiration from Jasmine Singers book “Always Too Much and Never Enough.” It’s a memoir about how she struggled with her weight even as a vegan and her path (which involved juicing) to losing weight and getting a better relationship with food and herself. I’d like to find more books like this.

Before I blow up anymore I’m committing to a 3-10 day juice cleanse starting Monday 9/26/16. I want to detox and get off sugar etc. I’m trying to look at the fast as a spiritual challenge not just deprivation. I’ll see how long I can go for, but I’d like to make it 10 days. It’s like I’m afraid I’ll have a total meltdown, but things have gotten dire so I’m willing to give it a try.

I’m going to go to the gym or do some kind of exercise 5 times a week.

I’m going to go back to counting points on Weight Watchers.

I’m going to try to eat vegetarian and hopefully make my way to vegan. I want to eat whole foods and a mostly plant based diet.

I also may go to Overeaters Anonymous for support.

I’m tired of hating myself so I’m committing to this publicly and will post updates. I’d love to hear about your struggles and successes as well.

Anyone want to join me in this challenge?

 

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Filed under Upstate, weight loss, Writing

When One Door Closes, Break a F*ing Window! The Future of Music…

Recently, after 6 months of collaborating with another female musician, she informed me that she no longer wanted to collaborate and wanted to do her own project. I was totally bummed–band break ups suck. You spend all this time and energy on a project and put your faith in someone just to have it all disappear. I moped around for a few days then I had this idea to create a new “band” structure:

NEON GRLZ is an experiment in collaboration with other musicians, writers, filmmakers, and video artists. As opposed to a traditional set band, Susie DeFord collaborates with multiple artists of varying backgrounds in order to empower creation regardless of time, life constraints, and responsibilities that seem to always work against the creative process particularly as artists age. The idea is that while some artists and musicians may not be able to commit to one “band” for a variety of reasons, they can still exercise the creative impulse and unite with other artists by contributing to a song. NEON GRLZ celebrates technology that allows artists to swap tracks in a collaborative process regardless of location. Contributing artists will be invited to perform live at NEON GRLZ shows should they desire. For more info contact neongrlz<at>gmail.com

I am currently working on some basic tracks using drum machines, loops, vocals, guitar, etc. and will be soliciting contributions in the New Year. Until then you can check out some of the songs created so far here:

https://soundcloud.com/neongrlz

Ain't no joke

Ain’t no joke

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Filed under Art, Brooklyn, Music, NY, Poetry, Writing

Puerto Rican Odessey- Cats, Dogs, Horses, and Beaches- Oh My!

A few weeks later I’m finally sharing my Puerto Rican travel journal! Enjoy our adventures attracting animals wherever we go!

El Morro, Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

5/26/12

We flew to San Juan Puerto Rico and took a cab to The Gallery Inn, which may just be the strangest and best hotel I’ve ever been to. It is run by this artist woman and her sculptures, paintings, and parrots decorate the maze like halls and stairwells.

Guard Parrots, courtyard of Gallery Inn, Old San Juan

Sculptures, Nooks, and Crannies, Gallery Inn, Old San Juan

When we found our room up a spiral staircase, we opened the door to the patio and a cat ran inside to greet us. Apparently, we were staying in her room. We nicknamed her Rosalita and started buying her cans of Friskies.

Rosalita going through my suitcase at The Gallery Inn, Old San Juan

We walked around sweating in the afternoon sun and went and got dinner at La Fonda El Jabarito. Very unassuming but the locals eat there and its probably the best Mufungo I ever had.  The next day we visited the forts and got more sun burnt walking around. I bought a National Parks Passport in the gift shop and am now determined to get a stamp from as many National Parks as possible.

5/28/12

We took a puddle jumper plane to Vieques from San Juan, Puerto Rico. There were only 6 people on it including the pilot. It was scary but beautiful flying over Puerto Rico’s lush green hills and turquoise beaches.

Flying to Vieques!

When we got to Vieques’ tiny airport we got a ride from a chatty cabbie named Ruben who was a cook for 15 years but got sick of it, “Too much work.” He talked about how much his Chihuahua liked to eat grilled onions but not a certain kind of Alpo. He said his dog actually peed in his food when he tried to change it, “Little monster.” I seem to bring the animal talk out in everyone so we listened politely as we looked out the window at the wild horses roaming around on the sides of the roads.

Wild horses couldn’t drag me away

We arrived at our hotel, Malecon House, in the small town of Esperanza. Malecon House is very sparse, white, and clean.

Esperanza Malecon, Vieques, PR

We took a swim in their small warm pool then had dinner at Duffy’s. Dogs roamed in and out of the outdoor bars and restaurants sniffing for scraps. Afterwards, we headed to the Green Store (which is one of the two convenience stores in the town) to meet up with our guides for a Bioluminescent Bay tour. We were early so we sat outside and ate ice cream and petted and talked to some of the dogs hanging out nearby. Most have collars, but not tags, I guess people just let their dogs roam around town all day. Finally, Vieques Adventures picked us up in a van for the Biobay tour at 7pm. We crammed into a van with a bunch of people and drove through the bumpy back roads to Mosquito Bay. There we waded through the dark and got into clear canoes. We paddled out to the middle of the bay. As it got darker and we were further from the shore, the stars shone brightly and the water started to glow around our moving paddles and canoe. Every once in a while we saw a streak of light through the water as a fish swam by. Bioluminescence is such a strange and surreal phenomena. We roped up our boats together and talked about the biobay and the constellations above. I felt the peace I can’t seem to find in the city out there on the water. I could’ve drifted out there forever but soon we headed back to shore. Thumping over the bumps along the dirt road back to town I tried to imprint the bay in my memory so I could go back in times of stress.

5/29/12

We tried to walk along the trails of Cayo de Terra a small (but bigger than it seems) strip of land off Esperanza’s Malecon. Lonely Planet’s guidebook described the trails as rambling. Next thing we know we’re off the barely marked trails in the woods and can’t find our way out until we hit a cliff. We sort of find another trail and follow it thinking it’s headed to Sun Bay beach but we hit a lagoon we didn’t even know was there. After an hour and some scrapes and swearing my Floridian girl scout roots kick in and I find the trail back. We head to Sun Bay finally and dive in to the warm blue water. I’m not really relaxing and doing nothing on my “do-nothing vacation.”

5/30/12

After having a family from New Jersey take over breakfast loudly at Malecon House we got a rental Jeep and drove to the Green beach. It was so peaceful, beautiful, and calm. Then some family with a kid came over which kind of bummed us out. We really just wanted some peace alone on a secluded beach but whatever.

Green Beach, Vieques, PR

We went to Isabella Segunda and were floored by how different it seemed from Esperanza.  We got lunch at a good place but it took forever to get the food. Afterwards, we did a two-hour horseback ride on the hills and beaches of town. The hills were so steep it turned out to be super-stressful. Dennis wasn’t sure his old horse was going to make it. Mine kept eating plants and drinking salt water.  After two hours my ass was killing me. Finally, we went back to the stable.

We hauled ass back to Esperanza vowing not to go back to Isabella Segunda while on Vieques.

5/31/12

Our last full day on Vieques we were happy, but sunburned and sore from hiking, riding, and canoeing. We drove forever in the Old US Millitary/now nature reserve until we found Playa La Plata (I think?). It was deserted and beautiful.

Playa la Plata, Vieques, PR

There was even a little wood hut someone had made for shade. We hung around there for a while then drove around looking at the creepy old abandoned military bunkers. It was like a scene from some horror movie, a couple on vacation goes to explore abandoned bunkers and finds some crazy predator like a giant rabid mongoose who hunts them. We had an amazing dinner of shrimp and lobster stuffed mofungo and roasted chicken and grapes at El Quenepo. All the restaurants in Esperanza were pretty good, Duffy’s and Banana’s had reasonably priced burgers and sandwiches and Tradewinds had great food and a great view out over the water.

Me and a 300+ year old tree, Vieques

6/1/12

We headed back to the little airport and ate at the little café outside. You can check in and then go back outside and eat there! Security is pretty lax. We flew back to San Juan and took a cab to Ocean Park to the Numero Uno Guest House.

Ocean Park, San Juan, PR

Ocean Park is the beach most of the locals go to in San Juan and it isn’t as touristy as Condado. We went to the beach for a while then got dinner at La B de Burro which had great burritos and awesome Luchadora artwork everywhere.

6/2/12

We got picked up by this guy Manny from Eco Action Tours to go to El Yunque which is a national park/ rainforest. Manny was a stresswad about all the traffic and kept saying, “Oh no, this is a crisis!” We could tell he spent some years in NYC from his accent so we tried to joke around with him a bit. After picking up some other tourists and driving about an hour we finally got there.

Me and Dennis in El Yunque

We stopped at various points of interest. One was a lookout tower, another an older gentleman’s house and farm within the park. Apparently, he had a Salvia plant that Manny was trying to get all of us to eat and get high.

Manny and Salvia plant, El Yunque, PR

Next we parked and hiked up and down hills to a series of waterfalls and pools you could swim in. It was pretty crowded but if you hiked up above the main pools beyond a barrier you could find pools with no one in them. Dennis and I found one and jumped in then realized it was freezing which felt pretty good on a hot day.

Waterfalls and pools of El Yunque, PR

When we got back to Ocean Park later that afternoon we went back to the beach for a while then had dinner at the local, awesome diner/ bakery Kasalta’s. I drooled over the pastry case as I ate my Cuban sandwich then ordered the best Tres Leches I’ve ever eaten.

6/3/12

After our last beach morning, we headed to the airport and back to NYC relaxed and ready to face it. That lasted about a week for me and now I’m ready to get out of here again! So I finally after 12 years without a car, I looked at and bought one! Perhaps, getting out of the city more even for day trips might make it more bearable. Hopefully, I can afford it….

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Filed under Dogs, Travel, Writing

The Brooklyn Mutt Show March 24, 2012

Just in time for Brooklyn’s weirdly early and foggy spring is the Brooklyn Mutt Show at the Brooklyn Lyceum in Park Slope! The Brooklyn Mutt show proceeds this year benefit Sean Casey Animal Rescue. On Saturday March 24, Phoebe and I will be there from 11am-6pm selling my book Dogs of Brooklyn and answering dog training questions. Phoebe will likely be entering some of the contests, like Best Ears.

Best Ears, Don't you think?

All proceeds from Dogs of Brooklyn sales at the Brooklyn Mutt Show are going to go to our cat Itty Pity’s cancer treatment. Sadly, after 17 years she was diagnosed with lymphoma and we want to make her as comfortable as possible as she passes into the next world (which ain’t cheap!).

Dennis, Phoebe dog, Phoebe Cat (in perch), and Itty Pity (on table as usual)

A good time will be had by all at the Mutt Show so come on down.

Some recent kind words on Dogs of Brooklyn/ my writing:

Good friend and excellent writer, Melissa Febos and I discuss writing, publishing, and dogs on The Nervous Breakdown.

Awesome editor/ writer Jason Boog interviews me about poetry and self publishing for Galleycat.

One of my clients interview me on poetry, Brooklyn, adolescence, and dogs on Walking the Blog.

More events etc to come! Mark your calendars for Saturday April 7 2012 at 7am-9am. Phoebe and I will be hosting Fido Brooklyn’s Coffee Bark! Come say hello and get free coffee, bagels, and dog treats in Prospect Park by the Picnic House. Hope to see you soon!

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Filed under Brooklyn, dog training, Dogs, Interviews, Poetry, Self publishing, Writing

My Life on the P List- Beaten by a 12-year-old at DWAA

I’m starting column to chronicle the d-list antics (humorous rejection) of being a poet and writer out there promoting myself. I’m calling it “My Life on the P List.” P being even further than D-list in the alphabet and miles away from the A-list. P also standing for Poetry, Promotion, Projectile Vomiting. P really can mean anything you like, but basically its my attempt to laugh at all the ridiculous rejection writers face. So read on- my failures are here for your enjoyment!

Several months ago I got a letter in the mail saying I’d been nominated for an award from the Dog Writers Association of America (really!) for my poem “St. Francis of 42nd Street” that appeared in the December 2010 of Dog Fancy Magazine.

February 12, 2012, the same night as the Grammys, I attended the DWAA Awards Banquet. So while Adele was busy getting awards left and right, I was making small talk with the real life cast of Best in Show. Appropriate considering the Westminster Dog Show is happening over the next two days. That’s right Mark Doty, Amy Hempel, John Grogan, and all you other writers who’ve had critical success writing about dogs–Eat Your Heart Out!

I have photos to prove the DWAA actually exists! When I got to the Affina Hotel, that’s right, we got swag bags! And instead of Rolex’s or whatever they give people at the Grammy’s mine was filled with dog friendly ice melt, dog chews, and other dog related products. Try to contain your jealousy!

Swag bag!!!

Wait it gets better! We checked out the writing display (my poem and Dennis’ photo was nowhere to be found)

Writing display

We find a table and wind up sitting next to some breeders. One of which had been a Westminster judge. Being that I’m a hardcore shelter/ rescue dog advocate sitting by breeders was like sleeping with the enemy! They were nice but did talk about judging “good” dogs. It got interesting when one of the older ladies started feeling sick and left to go to the bathroom with no shoes on. We checked on her to make sure she wasn’t having a stroke or something, she was ok but clearly not all there.

Dennis and I managed to eat our chicken dinners and keep our mouths shut about shelter politics.

Dennis and I playing nice

So the award ceremony starts and lots of the nominees and sponsors aren’t there which the presenter comments on saying about the sponsors “That’s okay we still have their money!” Which cracks us up. The awards are these plastic medallions and some cash awards. When they finally get to my category they announce the 4 nominees for poetry. One is at the table next to ours and she’s a fourteen year old girl that has a head band with cat ears on it. The presenter says her poem was published when she was only 12-years-old. They announce the winner and its her! She squeals and runs up to collect her plastic medallion. I stand there stunned that my 33 year old self who’s written for 20 years or more just got beaten by a 12-year-old wearing cat ears. They come over and give me my nominee certificate. I force a smile

My certificate! Almost as good as my MFA dipolma!

The highlight was I noticed Patricia McConnell who is pretty much my dog training idol sitting at the table next to us. So before we left I met her and gave her a copy of DOGS OF BROOKLYN!

Patricia McConnell is touching my book!

I grumbled my way home with Dennis who tried to cheer me up and not laugh at me too much. Its so ridiculous I actually can’t not laugh about it all.

So last week I was interviewed by Melissa Febos in the Rumpus and got mentioned by Poets and Writers,  this week beaten by a 12-year-old. Thankfully, the dogs love me no matter what–Too bad they can’t buy books!

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Filed under Brooklyn, dog training, Dogs, Poetry, Self publishing, Writing

A Major Award?

Fragile- that must be Italian!

I got an invitation in the mail to the Dog Writers Association of America (who knew there was such a thing?) Awards Banquet on February 12, 2012 at the Affina Manhattan Hotel. Apparently, someone nominated my poem St. Francis of 42nd Street which appeared in Dog Fancy Magazine in 2010. I’m not really sure what I’d win if anything or who I’m up against but the idea of several Dog Writers at a banquet is pretty funny. I will most definitely blog about that party–Wish me luck!

Dog Fancy 2010

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Filed under Brooklyn, Dogs, Poetry, Uncategorized, Writing